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Goff Speech: Launch of Negligent Neighbour

Phil Goff Speech: Launch of Negligent Neighbour Speech at the launch, in the Beehive Foyer, of the book Negligent Neighbour written by Maire Leadbeater.

Can I first thank Maire for the privilege of being asked to launch her new book on Timor Leste and how the plight of its people was for so long ignored.

I don't always agree with Maire and that is true even of some of the conclusions she draws in this book.

However, we do agree on the unacceptable failure of western countries, including our own, to acknowledge and speak out about the invasion of East Timor in 1975 and subsequent oppression.

I applaud the book as a product of thorough research and hard work, and I express my admiration for the passion and the commitment Maire has demonstrated over very many years for the causes of peace and justice.

During my six years as Foreign Minister she was a persistent correspondent, from time to time a critic and on more than a few occasions supportive of actions that I had taken.

I first became aware of injustice and suffering which the people of East Timor had been and were being subjected to in the mid 1970's. I could not understand why the world had condoned rather than condemned the invasion of a small country, why it was not outraged by the enormous loss of life in the years immediately following its occupation in December 1975.

Through the 1980's little was heard about what was happening in East Timor but that changed with the massacre at the Santa Cruz cemetery in 1992. Amongst those killed was New Zealander Kamal Bamadhaj, the second New Zealander to be murdered in East Timor with TV cameraman Gary Cunningham earlier killed at Balibo in 1975. The massacre created a resurgence of anger in New Zealand and elsewhere at the plight of the East Timorese and a determination to right the injustice they were suffering.


I first went to East Timor as part of a parliamentary fact-finding mission in 1994, and again in August 1999 as an UNAMET observer of the independence referendum. It was one of the most moving, and fraught times I have experienced as an MP. From January 2000 as Minister of Foreign Affairs I made regular visits to East Timor as it was rebuilt from the ashes. We celebrated as the country made progress towards independence under the supervision of the UN and its Special Representative Sergio de Mello. It was a time of hope and optimism for East Timor.

New Zealand made a huge effort to assist Timor Leste over that period, including the contribution of a battalion of peacekeepers from the New Zealand Defence Force as well as Police, Customs, Corrections and other development assistance personnel.

Most left East Timor in 2003 with our country believing we had made a proud and worthwhile contribution to assisting the world's newest nation.

Sadly three years later a politically and regionally divided Timor Leste again sought international and New Zealand defence force assistance to prevent chaos and bloodshed.

I absolutely disagree however, Maire, that this intervention, invited by Timor Leste leaders including Jose Ramos Horta, Xanana Gusmao and the Speaker of Parliament, is in any sense neo-colonialist as suggested in the book. There is no element at all in our involvement of self-interest. It reflected solely our desire to prevent Timor Leste from dissolving into a bloodbath in April last year.

A new election will be held in April but it will take much more than that to put Timor Leste back on the path to a better future.

Poverty, lack of development and lack of capacity, internal divisions and poor governance all have to be overcome. The dream of a better life, cherished by East Timorese through 25 years of occupation and supported steadfastly by Maire Leadbeater and others, is still to be realised. To achieve it will require real leadership from within Timor Leste and cooperation from the international community.

Thank you Maire for your efforts, and thank you for the stark reminder in this book that injustice is perpetuated when pragmatism is so predominant that our human rights values and principles are lost sight of.

ENDS

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